TORONTO 2001: Glitz Fizzle; Buzzing with More Art, Less Fanfare
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/ 09.06.01) -- The city is quiet: After a 25th anniversary blowout last year, the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, kicking off tonight with Canadian director Bruce Sweeney's "Last Wedding," has all the appearances of a much more subdued event.
Consider last year's glitzy Gala selection with new films from Cameron Crowe, Wong Kar-wai, Terence Davies, Robert Altman, Ang Lee, Christopher Guest and Kathryn Bigelow. This year, names like Dayan, Muccino, Lawrence, Peploe, and Atkins litter the Gala lineup. If we told you there were also new films from the Hughes brothers, Jan Sverak, Istvan Szabo, and Michael Apted -- admittedly all solid name-filmmakers -- how many of you would think "Gala"?
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course; it just means everyone from general audience members to journalists to distribution executives will have to work a little bit harder at the needle-in-a-haystack proceedings. Usually, a busy festival for U.S. acquisitions (last year bigwig Lions Gate was a major purchasing presence), the 26th Toronto fest will likely demand more discriminating distributors and audiences with a taste for fine aesthetic over commercial sheen.
A different sort of buzz is more likely to arise this year, for small and smart movies, foreign and independent. Sure, Masters Godard, Moretti and Lynch will show up here to rake in the English-language blurbs after already premiering in Cannes, but where does one find the discoveries, those new films that have yet to be seen, reviewed or bought?
One way to discern such titles is to look at the sales companies' slates. Cinetic's John Sloss, the notable producer's rep who walked away from Sundance 2001 with two of the biggest deals of the fest (for "The Deep End" and "Super Troopers") is in Toronto with eight films sure to be on the hit-lists of both buyers and viewers. Rose Troche, who scored with her "Bedrooms and Hallways" at Toronto 1998, is back with "The Safety of Objects," which interweaves the lives of four families and stars Glenn Close, Timothy Olyphant, Dermot Mulroney and Moira Kelly, among others. Another anticipated Cinetic title is "Myth of Fingerprints" director Bart Freundlich's latest "World Traveler," a road movie starring Billy Crudup as a man in flight from his family. Cinetic also has a trio of intriguing documentaries, George Ratliff's "Hell House," Vikram Jayanti's "James Ellroy's Feast of Death," and Canadian Lynne Stopkewich's "Lilith on Top."
Other English language films sure to create a stir include two movies on the selling block from Good Machine International, the famed New York company behind last year's Toronto audience favorite, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon": Gregor Jordan's "Buffalo Soldiers," a Film Four co-production having its world premiere here, and together with Blow Up Pictures, "Walking and Talking" writer-director Nicole Holofcener's DV film "Lovely and Amazing," a recent hit over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival. There's also "Clockwatchers" director Jill Sprecher's "13 Conversations about One Thing," already dubbed dark, yet satisfying, after showing in Venice a few days ago, the long-awaited "Prozac Nation," starring Christina Ricci, from Norwegian director Eric Skjoldbjaerg ("Insomnia"), Mike Figgis's "Hotel," a real-time 4-part simultaneous story a la last year's "Time Code" -- and who knew that actor-director Frank Whaley ("Joe the King") had a new film, "The Jimmy Show," starring Whaley as a failed New Jersey inventor-turned-standup comic?
Foreign cinema is always a force, as well, with some of the best in international cinema trying to make a mark on the all-important North American market in the coming 10 days. Esteemed arthouse sales company Celluloid Dreams is joining with Cinetic to sell acclaimed Iranian director Abolfazl Jalili's new film "Delbaran," about the travails of a 15-year-old Afghan refugee in Iran. Two French films backed by Celluloid Dreams also offer promise: "Human Resources" director Laurent Cantet's "Time Out," which astounded critics at its Venice premiere earlier this week, and the world premiere of first-time director Benoit Graffin's "Le Café de la Plage" ("Beach Café"), an apparent highlight of this year's Discovery section.
Fortissimo Film Sales, another highly reputed international rep, is onboard with Cinetic, working on Steve Jacob's "La Spagnola," a comic story about a Spanish mother and daughter fighting it out in 1960s Australia. Fortissimo is also selling Shunji Iwai's "All About Lily Chou Chou," an intriguing story of Japanese youth and pop culture that originated as an interactive novel on the Internet.
While the Asian wave that so dominated festivals over the last couple years appears to be subsiding, other new, notable films from the East include "Address Unknown," the latest film from Korea's Kim Ki-duk, director of last year's beautiful shocker "The Isle," Chinese entry, "The Orphan Of Anyang" recommended by programmer Noah Cowan, two films from Indian directors, Pan Nalin's Himalaya-set intimate epic "Samsara," and from the maker of "The Terrorist," Santosh Sivan's 3rd century B.C. period drama "Asoka." The Midnight Madness program is also likely to yield some hot Asian tickets, Thai war film "Bang Rajan: The Legend of the Village Warriors," action directing-duo Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's "Full Time Killer," and "Ichi the Killer," directed by Takashi Miike, currently enjoying arthouse success with his "Audition."
We could keep going: previewing anticipated films from such far away places as Albania ("Slogans") or Russia ("Sisters") or Norway ("You Really Got Me") or Singapore ("Chicken Rice War"), but then again, we're still liable to miss something.